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  • Breaking Loose + White Lace and Black Leather – The Oft-Forgotten First Two Albums from Legendary Canadian Rockers Helix!

    For this week's throwback review, we are taking a look at Helix's oft-forgotten first two albums!
    For this week’s throwback review, we are taking a look at Helix’s oft-forgotten first two albums!

     

     

    Helix is one of the greatest classic hard rock groups to emerge from Canada in the 1980s. Despite numerous lineup changes and a number of tragedies and obstacles along the way, this is a band that has persevered and remains active to this day, with frontman Brian Vollmer remaining the band’s one constant member throughout it all. The group released their latest studio album, Bastard of the Blues, in 2014. It was a release beautifully demonstrating that the band is still capable of creating some of the best hard rock out there, and one that I was eager to include in my “Top Five” list of 2014.

    Most people discovered Helix with the release of their first two major label releases, No Rest for the Wicked, and Walkin’ the Razor’s Edge, thanks to classic cuts and music videos, with songs like Heavy Metal Love and Rock You. However, the band had actually started much earlier, and had two independent releases prior to being signed to a major label!

    The first two releases from Helix were 1979’s Breaking Loose, and 1981’s White Lace and Black Leather. As a big fan of the band, I was all the more eager to go back in time and rediscover these “lost albums” of sorts that many a fan does not even know about. Both albums were briefly available on compact disc in the early 1990s on a twofer CD, unfortunately this has long since gone out of print. Giving these two albums another listen has been an interesting experience, to say the least. How do they hold up today?

     

    Breaking Loose is the first Helix album, released in 1979.
    Breaking Loose is the first Helix album, released in 1979.

     

    1979’s Breaking Loose features a lineup comprised of vocalist Brian Vollmer, guitarists Brent Doerner and Paul Hackman, bassist Keith “Bert” Zurbrigg, and drummer Brian Doerner. Brian Doerner (Brent’s brother) only played drums as a full-time member of the band on this release, but would do guest/session drumming on later major label releases from the band. In more recent years he has also played with Canadian band Saga.

    As soon as someone begins listening to Breaking Loose, two things are going to become very evident. One is that the album is much more of a 70s-style classic rock album than any of the band’s later major label material, and two, the band, in this early phase, is experimenting with a lot of different musical styles. What is truly amazing is how well this music holds up today. It is a far cry from the Helix that people know and love from their major label days, but it is actually a very good, solid 70s classic rock record, which is criminally overlooked and forgotten.

    The highlights on the debut from Helix are numerous. I Could Never Leave and Don’t Hide Your Love are great 70s classic rockers that kick off the record in fine form. Down in the City is a great slower track that beautifully shows off the band’s musical diversity, even in this early formative period. Crazy Women has some killer hard rock riffs that still sound great today, and even features Brent Doerner on vocals! Doerner also sings on Billy Oxygen, probably my personal favorite cut on the record, with an epic sci-fi story of sorts that feels like it would be at home on an album by one of the British glam rock bands of the era. Here I Go Again (not the same song as the Whitesnake one) is another solid 70s style rocker which is fairly atypical of the period. You’re a Woman Now is one of the major highlights of the record with its Zeppelin-esque acoustic verses and anthematic chorus. Wish I Could Be There finishes off Helix’s debut album off in fine form, combining slow and haunting segments with epic hard rock.

     

    White Lace and Black Leather is the sophomore album from Helix, released in 1981.
    White Lace and Black Leather is the sophomore album from Helix, released in 1981.

     

    1981’s Breaking Loose has Brian Vollmer, Brent Doerner, and Paul Hackman returning, with replacement members Mike Uzelac on bass, and Leo Niebudek. It is interesting to note that one of the people who auditioned for the vacant bass slot that was eventually filled by Uzelac was a young Michael J. Fox!

    After the musical experimentation and diversity of the first album, White Lace and Black Leather tends to be a more straightforward rock album, though the band still does not quite resemble the incarnation of Helix that fans would come to recognize from their major label releases. Of course, they are still going to find plenty to enjoy amongst what they will find here.

    The opening track, Breaking Loose (that is not a misprint, the song Breaking Loose is NOT on the debut of the same name!) is a straight up hard rocker that gets this sophomore album started in fine form, with great guitar riffs and superb vocals from Brian Vollmer. It’s Too Lane is a great pop rocker that sounds like a holdover from the 70s (though I absolutely mean that in a good way!) The six-minute-plus Long Distance Heartbreak features some of the best vocal and instrumental work on the album alike, standing as a solid highlight for its lengthy duration. Throughout the record, the songs range anywhere from more hard rock driven sounds to pop oriented ones, and everything in between, giving the album a solid balance and a more straightforward direction than its predecessor. Like on the first album, Brent Doerner gets to try his hand at lead vocals on Mainline (not the same song as the KISS one), and it stands out with its odd but still appealing pop sound. Women Whiskey and Sin is another great hard rock track, and the slow and melodic Thoughts That Bleed makes for a fitting closer.

    If you are at all a Helix fan, these two records are lost classics that are worth rediscovering. If you have the opportunity to get your hands on either of these albums or even to just listen to them, do not pass it up. You will be pleasantly surprised by the band, even in this early period, showing off just how musically capable they were. It is absolutely criminal that these releases are out of print and widely forgotten (legal/rights issues may be to blame here). If you are building a Helix collection, it is not complete without these lost gems.

     



  • Joe Holmes, One of the Most Underrated Guitarists Out There, Makes a Comeback with Farmikos!

    The debut album from Farmikos was released in January 2015.
    The debut album from Farmikos was released in January 2015.

     

     

    One of the truly underrated guitarists in the music industry is Joe Holmes. Holmes has been known in the past for stints with Lizzy Borden, David Lee Roth, and Ozzy Osbourne, but largely disappeared from the scene and the public eye despite his collaborations with these other acclaimed artists. After a lengthy absence during which Holmes had been busy raising his family, he is returning to the rock and roll forefront with Farmikos, his latest project, teaming him up with Brent Hoffort and Robbie Locke. Additional contributors to the recordings include Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion) and Robert Trujillo (Metallica).

    Holmes has played with some diverse bands, and because of that, it can be difficult to know what to expect from a project that is largely his own. Even as big of a rock and roll fan as I am, I was not aware of the group until I heard Eddie Trunk talking about them on his satellite radio show, and playing the first few cuts to be released (there had been digital single releases throughout 2014). The ten-track album is essentially a collection of all nine of the tracks recorded and released so far, with the addition of one new cut.

    It is great to finally have new music from Holmes, and after having listened to the album a few times, letting it sink in, I have finally had ample opportunity to evaluate the release (I had previously only heard a few of the digital singles, so many of these tracks were new to me when it came down to this release). How does the debut from Farmikos measure up? It is one in a long line of classic artists  mimicking modern artists in a pathetic attempt to stay relevant, or is it something unique and worth your time?

    It is tough to review the Farmikos album because it is so different from what I normally listen to. YES, this release has far more in common with modern rock sounds than the bands Holmes is best known for being a part of. But at the same time, unlike many of those “new bands with old artists” we have come to know, this one does not s blatantly copy anything, and actually feels like it draws its influences from multiple sources. There are elements of everything from guitar driven 80s rock to the 90s grunge movement and beyond intertwined within these songs. The end result is, admittedly, not the most original thing I have ever heard, but it is still better than many of the new releases out there, from old and new artists alike. The release shows us that Holmes and his compatriots are at least capable of making solid enough music together. While most of the cuts on here are fairly hard and heavy, the previously unreleased Facing East is a slower and more melodic affair by comparison, and may be my favorite track of the bunch.

    I will be the first to admit that this album is not for everyone; those repulsed by modern rock at large will want to avoid it. But if you are a fan of hard rock and are seeking something new and interesting, this debut from Farmikos might be just what you are looking for. This is not a perfect release, and I do expect better things from Holmes and his newfound bandmates down the road, but for what it is this is a solid album that rock fans with an open mind should give a chance . Recommended.

     



  • Tales of a Ratt: Things You Shouldn’t Know – The Autobiography from Classic Ratt Drummer Bobby Blotzer!

    Tales of a Ratt – Things You Shouldn’t Know is an autobiography written by drummer Bobby Blotzer, with co-writer Jim Clayton.
    Tales of a Ratt – Things You Shouldn’t Know is an autobiography written by legendary drummer Bobby Blotzer, with co-writer Jim Clayton.

     

     

    Bobby Blotzer has had a long and interesting ride through the music industry. Starting his career in a number of local California-based bands and playing with Vic Vergat, his journey through the world of rock and roll skyrocketed when he became a member of Ratt in the early 1980s. Through subsequent highs and lows, side projects, and a number of Ratt reunions, Blotzer’s career has been many things, but dull was never one of them.

    At long last, Blotzer has teamed with co-writer Jim Clayton to put his story to pen and paper. With many rock and roll artists of his era putting out autobiographies, this definitely seemed the ideal time for the Blotz to do the same. How does Tales of a Ratt hold up?

    Tales of a Ratt is the story of Bobby Blotzer’s life, from childhood right up to the present (actually about 2010, when the book first came out). Through the book you will read about the Blotz’s childhood, early bands and musical experiences, the heyday of Ratt, his other side ventures and business endeavors following the transformation of the music industry, other assorted side projects over the years, and his often ill-fated love life.

    This was one of the rock autobiographies that I was most eager to read in recent months. Bobby Blotzer was largely responsible for making the classic version of Ratt what it was, and has had some of the most interesting side projects in the industry outside of the band. Unfortunately, while the stories themselves are interesting and epic in their own ways, the end product falls flat due to terrible writing, typographic errors in nearly every chapter, as well as too much focus on certain aspects, and not enough on others.

    The writing style of this book is the first and biggest overall flaw. The narrative goes back and forth between assorted time periods with very little rhyme or reason. It seems like whenever something vaguely related to something else is eluded to, we suddenly find ourselves in that time period. Jumping back and forth on a whim between time periods years apart makes for a messy, sloppy product that is, at times, virtually unbearable to read. Most rock and roll biographies do this to some extent, but they keep it in check and only use it when absolutely necessary to stress certain points of the story. The uneven chapter lengths do not help things any, either. This feels like notes that were haphazardly slapped together rather than a coherent, proper biography.

    One big flaw that truly stood out to me as I read this book was the sheer amount of typos that were scattered throughout the book. PROPER NAMES of musicians are misspelled frequently and often; even Ozzy Osbourne’s name is misspelled on the back of the book! Basic grammatical errors are extremely common; a prime example of this is that “it’s” (the contraction for “it is”) and “its” (the pronoun) are often used interchangeably. At times I found it hard to believe how much of all of this got through on a product that was commercially released! What is even more appalling is that the writers are not even consistent in their errors. With the Blotz having a co-author, none of this should have happened.

    The overemphasis and underemphasis of certain events throughout his career is also worth mentioning here. Of course the Ratt years (and subsequent attempts at reunions) get a decent amount of space devoted to them, but some phases are criminally neglected. Contraband (the supergroup Blotz was in with Michael Schenker and Tracii Guns) gets nothing more than a passing mention and a photo, yet other assorted side projects that are largely unknown by comparison get mentioned far more and described in greater detail. Overall, the book spends more time focusing on Blotz’s personal relationships and stories than actually looking at the music business side of things. One of my favorite things about Ratt bandmate Stephen Pearcy’s book is that, while it had no shortage of personal stories and escapades that did not exactly paint him in the most positive of lights, it at least gave the music business side of things some detail and description.

    The book is not a total loss, though. Despite what the title says, these are things that every fan of the Blotz should know, and there are everything from comedic to dramatic moments in here. Photos are scattered throughout the book, usually at the end of chapters, and capture our hero at all stages of his life. It is just a shame the book was not put together better with more editing and a consistent, coherent narrative.

    In the end there is a lot to like about Tales of a Ratt, but the poor writing style and abundance of typos weigh this one down. If you are looking for more details of the life on the road with Ratt in their heyday, buy Stephen Pearcy’s book instead; it is a far more consistent and better written book that covers that same time period. Blotz’s story definitely needs to be told and should be heard, but as it stands, it is hard to recommend this book to anyone but the most die-hard of Bobby Blotzer fans. Know what you are getting before you lay down the cash for this one.

     



  • TailGun EP – The First Release from One of Las Vegas’ Best New Hard Rock Bands!

    This three-song EP is TailGun's first release.
    This three-song EP is TailGun’s first release.

     

     

    With many bands coming on the Vegas music scene on a regular basis, it can be tough to keep up with everyone. But TailGun is one of the bands in recent months to truly catch my attention, with their old school, “back to basics” rock sound. The group is comprised of Cory Kay on bass, Todd Turgeon on drums, Rob EG on guitars, Dru Jaxin (AKA Drew Calvert) on vocals, and Larry Kelly on guitars. Several of these musicians have been around in various local bands; Dru Jaxin had previously sung for the Aces High Iron Maiden Tribute and Kaos X, and Todd Turgeon had been a part of BlackBox13.

    Not long ago, TailGun released their debut demo EP, featuring three original tracks from the group, which have been played at live shows. Recent gigs for the band include opening spots for Saigon Kick and the Frank Hannon Band, so the group is definitely keeping themselves in the spotlight around Sin City.

    After having given this EP a few listens, I am all the more eager for a full-length release from the group. So, what does TailGun sound like exactly? The easiest band to compare their sound to is AC/DC, but they are not exactly copycats of those Australian rock legends, either. Each track and each member of the band brings something unique to the table, and it stands as a catchy release that fans of classic style hard rock will enjoy. Sometimes it is great to forget about the really intricate, symphonic hard rock and metal, and just go back to keeping it simple and rocking out. TailGun excels here, and this shows all three tracks on this EP. Of the three tracks here, opener Coming in Hot would have to be my personal favorite, with a classic hard rock sound and innuendoes even Spinal Tap would be proud of. All three tracks have their highlights, and this is a solid beginning for the group!

    TailGun’s debut demo EP will hopefully be a sign of great things to come from these rockers. It is great to see this band bringing back a classic sound in the form of original material, rather than the same old cover songs we have gotten countless times from so many other groups on the scene. To any fan of classic hard rock sounds, this EP gets a solid recommendation.



  • A Conspiracy of Stars – British Rockers UFO are Still Going Strong, After Nearly Half a Century of Rock and Roll!

    A Conspiracy of Stars is the 21st studio album from UFO. It will be released in America on March 3, 2015.
    A Conspiracy of Stars is the 21st studio album from UFO. It will be released in America on March 3, 2015.

     

     

    Hailing from England, UFO has been one of the world’s top hard rock bands for well over four decades now. The group remains active and is still going strong, with a fanbase all over the world. Starting as a “space rock” act, it was the coming of guitarist of Michael Schenker and the shift to a more straightforward hard rock sound that helped to turn them into the classic band that fans have known and loved for so long. The band’s lineup has changed many times over the years, but has always included vocalist Phil Mogg.

    Schenker has come and gone from the band on more than one occasion and has since supposedly left the band “for good.” In recent years the band has developed a steady, consistent lineup that has classic members Phil Mogg, Paul Raymond, and Andy Parker. The group has been joined for the past decade by guitarist Vinnie Moore, but has used fill-in bass players on their tours and in the studio alike due to the absence of classic bassist Pete Way. This marks the 21st studio release from the band.

    The biggest change to occur within the band’s ranks with the arrival of Vinnie Moore on guitar was a shift towards a more blues driven sound, but one that still rocked hard. I will be the first to admit I was not a fan of the direction that Moore’s arrival in the band began steering them in, but over time it has grown on this fan. A larger part of my appreciation of this stems from the fact that Moore is not simply emulating or trying to be Michael Schenker; someone who forges their own path and does not follow the all too common copycat method scores points in my book, even if the results do tend to be mixed at times.

    At long last, we have arrived at the point where this legendary group of British rockers has released their new record. A Conspiracy of Stars is here, but how does the album actually measure up?

    While I am not the biggest fan of every single record from the ongoing Vinnie Moore period (though I absolutely love the guy as a guitarist), it is interesting to see how they have learned to sync together over the past several releases. Seven Deadly, their most recent album prior to this one, could very well have been the best of the lot with Moore to date. And while I would not immediately say that a Conspiracy of Stars tops their most recent record, I am at least pleased to say that the band has put out another solid album, which beautifully demonstrates how far the band has come in recent years in this incarnation.

    Even the most loyal of UFO fans typically do not like every single thing the band has ever recorded, though it has been interesting to chart their evolution and progression over the past four plus decades. On this record, the band has put together another very solid selection of songs. The biggest surprise is how musically capable all of these artists are, even after over all these years. While Phil Mogg does not sound exactly the same as he did back in the 1970s, his voice remains distinctive and recognizable, giving the band a voice that is truly all their own. Fellow classic members Andy Parker and Paul Raymond keep things interesting, but as with many of their recent records, it is guitarist Vinnie Moore who has become the standout member of the band. His heavy, bluesy style of guitar playing is one that has won him many admirers in the music world, and he was getting this attention long before becoming a member of UFO. From more straightforward hard rock tracks to the more bluesy ones, and those that are slower , everything on here keeps the attention of the listener. This is not the best UFO record, or even their best one with Vinnie Moore. But it is a good, solid effort from some of England’s most underrated rockers.

    It is impressive that, nearly a half century later, UFO is still alive and kicking, and with three fifths of their classic lineup intact, no less! In this day and age in which the music industry is going through some dark times, it is great to see a truly classic band setting foot out there and continuing to rock the world, in the studio and on the live stage as well. To fans of classic-style hard rock, the latest release from UFO garners a solid recommendation.